Friday, July 16, 2010

Focus. Dedication. Greatness (In The Making). The Delicious Ramen Noodles of Ramen Mottainai

"Living the dream."

In a region where millions struggle to attain their aspirations, it's always amazing to hear when people achieve their dreams. And for those of us that love to eat, it's even more cause for celebration when some of those dreams realized are from dedicated, talented Chefs who want nothing more than to cook great food and call Southern California "home": In the past few years alone, we've been blessed with not one, but two Yakitori masters, a wonderful Oden expert, and a legend in the Ramen world in Japan, amongst many others. And now, we're seeing the realization of another dream, already bearing fruit in the form of 3 distinctive, excellent types of Ramen at Ramen Mottainai.

Thanks to the excellent review from our Ramen guru, Rameniac, I wrangled one of my Ramen Hounds and dashed off to Mottainai. :) Mottainai is helmed by Chef Tadanori Akasaka and General Manager Nobuaki Ishiai. Self-professed Ramen devotees, they both came to the same conclusion years ago when they first visited Southern California: It's a great place they hoped one day to move to, and open up a Ramen shop dedicated to delivering fresh, handmade Ramen Noodles and Soup to match the level of excellence in Japan.

Mottainai occupies a nondescript corner of the Marukai Market plaza (there's no sign installed yet, so be on the lookout for their Noren until then). Upon entering, we're greeted warmly by the waitstaff. They have a simple, handsome Ramen counter (able to seat up to 10 people) with a few tables on the side.

Looking at their menu, they focus on 3 very distinctive styles of Ramen (which may seem sparse to some, but in reality it's a challenge for most Ramen masters to perfect), with a variety of toppings and a couple side dishes. I was a bit worried at first, until I realized that this was a reflection of Tadanori-san's growth and experience as a Ramen Chef: Tadanori-san was born in Sapporo, Japan, birthplace of the legendary Sapporo Miso-style Ramen Noodle Soup. Learning and cooking Ramen since he was 15 years old(!), he later moved to Tokyo to continue growing, hence the "Tokyo Props" Shoyu Ramen on the menu. And finally, he moved to Yokohama where he learned and developed his own version of their famous Ie-kei Ramen, represented on the menu as "Yokohama Freaker" Tonkotsu Shoyu Ramen. :)

You're even treated to a cute fable (created by the staff) to explain the concept of "Mottainai" (which roughly means ~"what a waste" / "such a shame [something's] wasted"). For Tadanori-san, he calls the restaurant this because the basis of his Ramen Soups are what many people take for granted and throw away: Chicken and Pork Bones.

Starting at the top, I begin with their "Tokyo Props" Shoyu Ramen (Soy Sauce-Based Ramen Noodle Soup).

I take a sip: Light, balanced, delicate Shoyu (Soy Sauce) flavors intermingle with their homemade Broth of Torigara (Chicken Bones), Niboshi (Baby Sardines) and Saba (Mackerel). It may not topple Tokyo's best, but it's now my favorite Shoyu Ramen in Southern California. (^_^)

(Note: Tadanori-san does *not* add MSG to any of his offerings (yay! :). There may be trace amounts in the Soy Sauce used, but nothing outside of that.)

The Noodles are where the dream is currently stalled at: Mottainai is using outsourced Noodles (as do pretty much all the big Ramen shops in So Cal), but only until they get the permits and clearance for their very own Noodle-making equipment (currently being processed). They hope to get clearance by September.

But even with outsourced Noodles, Chef Tadanori has chosen an excellent, thin, straight Noodle with a nice chew, which matches his Tokyo-style Shoyu Ramen quite well.

Their Chashu (Roasted Pork Slices) taste fresh (another victory for So Cal Ramen where the majority of places make huge batches to last throughout the week) and meaty. While it is bright, the problem is that they are a touch too chewy at times (needing another hour or two of slow-roasting to soften the Pork a bit more).

And their Menma (Bamboo Shoots) are on the sweet side (which I prefer), with a lot less pungency than most offerings.

Our order of Gyoza (Pan Fried-Steamed Dumplings) arrive next.

Their Gyoza are handmade and have a great crust: Very delicate with a thin crunch. The filling is a bit too finely shredded for my tastes, but as a classic accompaniment with Ramen, this is quite satisfying. :)

Next up is Tadanori-san's representation of his time in Yokohama: "Yokohama Freaker" Tonkotsu Shoyu Ramen (Pork Bone and Soy Sauce-Based Ramen Noodle Soup).

Santouka fans should be aware that this is not the same Asahikawa-style of Ramen like Santouka's similarly named dish. This is unabashedly Ie-kei style of Ramen, reflective of Tadanori-san's interpretation of the creation by Yoshimura-ya in Yokohama.

I'm not a fan of Ie-kei style in general, but I'm impressed by Tadanori-san's execution: It's a milder version of what you might expect from a pure Tonkotsu (Pork Bone) Broth, but it still retains a distinct porcine funkiness, balanced by the Shoyu. There's also the signature Chiyu (Chicken Oil) which takes this bowl to another plane, different from the more commonly found Tonkotsu Shoyu blends locally.

Finally, Tadanori-san pairs this Tonkotsu Shoyu with a thicker Noodle, closer to Udon than the usual Ramen Noodles you might expect.

Perhaps the funnest items on the menu are their Majikku Bomu ("Magic Bombs"), which are little side dishes you can order to enhance your Ramen Noodle experience. Their Red Bomb is a house-made Chili Paste Blend.

When paired with their straight Shoyu (Soy Sauce) Ramen, it doesn't really add too much except a mild heat. It feels like it clashes a little, but Chili Heads would probably love adding this to all flavors. (^_~)

But when paired with their Yokohama Freaker Tonkotsu Shoyu Ramen, it adds just the right level of burn that really complements each slurp. You get a bit of the porkiness that just feels right with some heat. :)

But if there's only one Magic Bomb you can try, then go for their Shiro (White Bomb), a globe of Pork Back Fat and Garlic! :)

Adding this to the pure Shoyu Ramen is pure magic! There's this sexy, lip-smacking facet with fragrant undertones of Garlic that elevate the Shoyu Ramen to new heights! Wow. (^_^) And it's not as overwhelming as, say, Daikokuya or Asa's Kotteri option where your bowl is covered in a sea of Pork Fatback. (^_~)

I try some with their Ie-kei Tonkotsu Shoyu Ramen and it's decent, but I think the amount of Chiyu and inherent porkiness makes this addition less of a standout.

But it's the last Ramen dish that I'm most excited about: "Sapporo Lover" Miso Ramen (Miso-Based Ramen Noodle Soup).

Finding a great Sapporo-style Miso Ramen in L.A. has been non-existent for a while, so I'm eager to see how Tadanori-san's version turns out. I'm excited to see Tadanori-san prepare this dish: It's actually a Kogashi Miso style (Burnt / Wok-Fired) to add a different flavor profile.

And to really make sure I get the full Sapporo experience, I order it with their "Type 1 Magic Alpha" Bomb option: Morokoshi Bata- (Stir Fried Corn and Butter). :)

The first sip is outstanding! :) Tadanori-san spent years perfecting a blend of 4 types of Miso for his Miso Ramen and it shows. It's surprisingly balanced and nuanced, with different aspects of the 4 types of Miso hitting your palate, but never overpowering your senses. The Marinated Ground Pork, Moyashi (Bean Sprouts) and Corn all work well together. The Butter is subtle and adds this luxurious quality, but it's very well integrated, without you feeling like it's an extraneous addition. While I still prefer the legendary Sumire's Miso Ramen, this is an excellent offering and the best Miso Ramen in So Cal. :)

They use the same thicker Noodle option as their Tonkotsu Shoyu, which are a decent match, but I'm waiting to see what they can do once they get their equipment cleared.

Their Tamago (Egg) option is not quite the heavenly level of the great Hanjyuku Tamago (Flash Boiled Egg) offerings throughout Japan, but it'll suffice. Hopefully in the coming months, they can perfect this.

For $1.50 more, you can add a Mini Salad and Onigiri Set to any of the Ramen.

The Mini Salad is fine (a standard Mixed Greens Side Salad), but it's their Shio Onigiri (Rice Ball with Salt) that's really natsukashii (nostalgic) for me. :) For those that didn't grow up eating plain Onigiri, it should be noted that this is what it looks like it is: Steamed Rice, seasoned with a bit of Salt and pressed into a ball-like shape with some Nori (Seaweed). This is the plain variety and it's a bit spartan and boring compared to the fancier versions seen locally (like Yaki Onigiri (Grilled), or with Sake (Salmon), etc.). But it's a decent Onigiri that fills a craving if you're in the mood for this traditional offering. :)

Service has been excellent (despite it being only open for a week or two). In each of my visits, the waitstaff has been friendly and prompt. Prices range from $6.95 - $7.80 for Ramen, with Toppings ranging from $1 - $2. Side dishes range from $1.95 - $4.95.

Ramen Mottainai has made a brilliant splash on the Southern California Ramen landscape. With a delicate "Tokyo Props" Shoyu (Soy Sauce) Ramen, a very respectable "Yokohama Freakers" Tonkotsu Shoyu (Pork Bone, Soy Sauce) Ramen in the underrepresented Ie-kei style, and the vibrant, balanced "Sapporo Lover" Miso Ramen, Mottainai has a menu that already tops most Ramen offerings locally. Be sure to add the appropriate "Magic Bomb" to elevate your Ramen even further, and sit back and enjoy. :) While their Noodles and Chashu can use some work, I can't even imagine what Autumn is going to be like, when they get clearance for their Noodle-making equipment. Imagine the first top-class So Cal Ramen-ya with Teuchi (Handmade) Ramen Noodles, made fresh every morning! I can't wait! (^_^)

Rating: 8.1 (out of 10.0)

Ramen Mottainai
1630 W. Redondo Beach Blvd., Suite 9
Gardena, CA 90247
Tel: (310) 538-3233

(Note: They had a misprint with their Business Cards so most posts out there mistakenly list their Fax # as their Telephone #. Correct Phone Number is listed here.)

Hours: [Lunch] Wed - Mon, 11:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.
[Dinner] Wed - Mon, 5:30 p.m. - 10:30 p.m.
Closed Tuesdays.


weezermonkey said...

This looks better than Yatai. ;)

Exile Kiss said...

Hi weezermonkey,

Let me know what you think of Mottainai if you go. :) Thanks.

Noah said...

Great review. I loved the miso ramen, and need to go back to try the others...

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Noah,

Thank you. :) You definitely have to try the other flavors. Let me know when you want to go. :)

Anna A. said...

Wow! You make me want to eat ramen + bomb now! Which soup would you recommend for someone that is not a big meat eater? Thanks for this awesome post, Exile Kiss!

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Anna,

Thank you. :) I'd say go for the "Tokyo Props" pure Shoyu (Soy Sauce-base) Ramen Noodles. And add a White Bomb if you're OK with a little animal fat with fragrant Garlic. (^_~)

Unique Lapin said...

This place was really awesome....we went to go check it out today and enjoyed the gyoza, the ‎"Yokohama Freaker" and "Tokyo Props". The beer as well was fresh and crisp. Will go back again def many many more times but my only problem was that we had to wait a long time to get ramen. Service was excellent otherwise just the ramen just took way longer any other places. Thank you for your post! Not sure what we would do if we dont read your blog for food!!!!!

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Unique Lapin,

Thank you for the kind words and great report back! :)

I'm so glad you liked your Ramen.

In terms of waiting, uh oh! When we were there multiple times there was almost no wait! We got our Ramen pretty quickly.

They might be getting busier now that word is getting around; hopefully they master the timing at full capacity. I can't wait to go back as well. Thanks! :)

Ben said...

Definitely excited to try Mottainai! I'm curious what your thoughts are on Hakata Ramen- Shin Sen Gumi. It's a place just down the street in Gardena. They have something similar to these 'bombs' in their spicy miso paste. I've found it to be the best ramen in socal. . . just wanted to hear your take, exile kiss. Thanks!

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Ben,

Ah, Hakata Shin Sen Gumi. The original Hakata Ramen in LA! :) I went there years ago when they first opened. I've been about ~30 times or so, and have lots of thoughts. :) First, you can't compare Shin Sen Gumi to Mottainai (different types of Ramen).

Secondly, SSG is decent; they used to be much better but over the years the cost-cutting measures have diminished their product.

Let me know what you think of Mottainai. Thanks. :)

Gastronomer said...

EK - This place sounds divine. The magic bombs are especially intriguing. I also like the idea of buttery corn floating in my soup. I think a trip to Gardena is in order. Is there anything fun to do in the area? Besides eating ramen, that is.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Gastronomer,

It is indeed pretty nice. :) I hope you enjoy your meal (let me know how it goes). :)

For the area... You can visit Redondo Beach Pier (Izakaya Bincho, Pier, etc. ;), visit Mitsuwa Market (biggest one in So Cal), visit Patisserie Chantilly (my favorite Cream Puffs in So Cal), then stay for dinner at Torihei (amazing Oden and Yakitori), Karaoke at Max! (^_~) And, uh, there must be more non-food related thing :P I'll mail you later. :)

Jay said...

My GF and I had the worst restaurant service in my life there, on my birthday no less. Waited over an hour for food which I never got while people that were seated twenty minutes after us had finished their meals and every single person that had walked in after us was already eating. And not only that, when does it take over an hour to make miso Ramen? Unnaceptable. My favorite food in the world is Ramen and to be treated so poorly there was heartbreaking.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Jay,

Oof! Sorry to hear. :( That's really unfortunate. As with any restaurant where you might experience horrible service, I'd encourage you to call and speak with the Manager or write them.

If they care, they'd try to make it up to you in some way.

You always hope that every meal you have at any restaurant would yield the "A" game from the waitstaff, but sadly we know that's never true.

Thanks for sharing.

Ron Y said...

Hi Exile Kiss
Been reading your blog for a while, really enjoyed it. We went to ramen mottainai on 8/1/10 and the food was great. It did take close to 20 minutes for the ramen to come out. We asked the waiter, and apparently they only have 6 boilers holes for the ramen, and each batch takes 5 minutes. So the fastest they can serve is about 6 bowls every 5-10 minutes. If someone orders the large portion (which translates to essentially an order of kaedama), they get more bogged down. Hope they get better at it.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Ron,

Thank you for the report back. It sounds like you had a good meal, and it's good to know about the limitations of their kitchen. I hope they continue to improve, and while their may be a wait, I don't mind, as long as the product is well executed. :)

Jay said...

The manager chased us out of the restaurant apologizing. Unfortunately. I can forgive basic slow service all day long, especially from a restaurant and restaurateur that's so obviously green. But when we're the only folks in the restaurant not being served—we didn't even get the basic Onigiri we ordered as a side in that hour—I can't in good conscience return. It was like being told to our faces that we simply weren't welcome.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Jay,

Thanks for the follow-up. Very strange. At least the manager apologized, but it's unfortunate if your waiter/waitress gave you guys specific bad treatment, sigh.

edjusted said...

I have got to go back and try the shoyu. But wait, did you get the almost-hanjuku egg at lunch or dinner? I tried to order it but they told me it was dinner-only. :(

Exile Kiss said...

Hi edjusted,

I love their Tokyo Props Shoyu for its subtlety. :) With a big smack in the face with their White Bomb. :)

I got their Hanjyuku Tamago at Lunch. They were willing to make it the first time I went, and on my latest visit recently, they were slow in the kitchen and made it for our table as well.

Peter said...

I went here for the first time today. I had the Sapporo Lover miso ramen for lunch. I have to agree it was the best miso ramen I've had in SoCal. The charred flavor of the wok-fired Miso added something not found in other miso ramens available locally. The changed their gyoza presentation a bit. In fact they said I was the first one to try it. They now serve their gyoza with Oroshi Ponzu. All in all their gyoza are much better than most Japanese restaurants I've been to. All in all a great addition to the local ramen scene. I will be coming back to try the shoyu ramen. Thanks again for the informative review Exile.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Peter,

Very nice! :) Thanks for your report back. I'm glad you liked their Sapporo Lovers Miso Ramen.

And thanks for the 411 on the new Gyozo preparation; can't wait to go back and try that. :)

When you go back for the Tokyo Props Shoyu Ramen, be sure to order a White Bomb and try it before and after you add some in. :)

Peter said...

Hey Exile,

Thanks for your reply. :) I will definitely take your advice with regard to the White Bomb for the Shoyu Ramen. I love the names on menu...they're funny and whimsical. Thanks to your intrepid exploration I found another good Japanese restaurant. All this talk about Japanese food only fuels my excitement to visit Japan again. Went to Osaka and Kyoto last fall but it seems ages ago. The ramen I had there was exquisite. While in Kyoto I had some Sumashi Ramen at this place in Pontocho called Takaraya.
Check out this review:

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Peter,

Thank *you* for visiting. :) I agree: I really miss Japan; can't wait to go back.

Takaraya Ramen: !

I passed by Takaraya on my last day in Kyoto; darn it! (~_~) I'll have to try it the next time I'm there. Thanks for the FYI.

Peter said...

Finally tried all three types of ramen here. I have to say I like the Sapporo Miso ramen the best. I ate the "Yokohama Freaker" Tonkotsu Shoyu ramen today. It was probably the richest tonkotsu shoyu I've tried in recent memory. Abura to the max! I also went for the chili paste "red bomb." I felt it was almost necessary for me to help cut the abura in the ramen. Overall the ramen here is pretty tasty but I think they could work on their chashu a bit. I feel that is the most unremarkable component of their ramen. Their miso ramen with the corn stir-fried in butter is definitely a hit though. Highly recommmended. Thanks again for a great review on your blog.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Peter,

Nice! :) I'm glad you got to try all 3. Their Sapporo Lover Miso is definitely standout. :)

Yah, I agree (as I noted as well), their Chashu is so-so. It's fresh-tasting (huge plus), but just a very thin, chewy slice.

Calvin said...

hi noah, this is my first time checking out your blog! i went to mottainai today and i was thoroughly impressed. tonkotsu/shoyu with white bomb was the closest thing to curing my ramen withdrawals since i've come back from Tokyo. thanks for the rec!

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Calvin,

Thanks for your thoughts. I'm not "noah" (he's a good friend of mine :), but I'm glad you found some enjoyable Ramen here in L.A. :)

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